Let me answer that question for you: They’re likely deeper than you think. To figure out just how deep, you need to put together a confidential inventory of your assets and liabilities (a.k.a. your balance sheet).
Assets generally are thought of as cash, stocks, bonds, real estate, cars, paintings, IRAs, and 401(k)’s. However, the definition is much broader for collection purposes. Any future income stream is also an asset and, thereby, subject to creditors. Even if you haven’t received these monies yet, a judgment holder may get to them through a continuing garnishment proceeding. Any and all partnership interests, even if there is no clear value, are assets. Intangible assets such as trademarks, copyrights, or patents are also subject to seizure. And of course, there are tangible assets like computers, furniture, and equipment.
In the case of uninsured and underinsured doctors, plaintiff’s attorneys routinely perform a basic asset search to get a sense of potential collectibility. Bank account searches on the Internet or by private investigators are relatively inexpensive and easy to perform. Public records of real estate or corporation ownership can reveal potential collection value in nonmedical business dealings. A physician’s beautiful office, seemingly expensive car, etc.—a plaintiff can surmise much about a physician’s financial well-being from these kinds of things.
The formal discovery of assets is usually not permitted by the court in the early stages of a case, namely, before liability is established. However, in the case of a doctor without insurance, he or she must comply with the technical statutory requirements of financial responsibility. If he or she fails to do so, the court may give a plaintiff wide latitude in asking questions regarding wealth prior to the establishment of liability.